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Halsey, new USMH leader, a fan of blended learning

May 21, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Mark Halsey, the new University System of Maryland at Hagerstown executive director, stands in his office in front of flags from each of the countries where he has worked.
By Andrew Schotz/Staff Writer

HAGERSTOWN — On Monday, his first day as executive director of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, Mark Halsey said he sees the potential for more “blended learning” at the local campus.

Blended, or hybrid, learning is a mix of traditional classroom interaction and electronic communication, he said.

Students work more on their own on course material, then use classroom time to talk and build upon lessons, rather than always hearing a lecture.

Halsey comes to USMH from Virginia Tech University, where he was the director of finance and administration for distance learning.

He was hired about six weeks ago as USMH’s second executive director.

C. David Warner III held the position from 2005, when the campus opened, until 2011, when he became the vice president for academic affairs at Hagerstown Community College.

John L. Stoothoff filled in as interim executive director between Warner and Halsey.

Halsey said Hagerstown was a personally appealing choice for his family. He is from southwest Virginia and his wife is from Philadelphia.

“Hagerstown is almost smack in the middle,” he said.

Washington County, with its agriculture and small-industry base, also has a similar feel to where he lived in Virginia, he said.

“Hagerstown very clearly is in the midst of economic development” and education is an “absolutely critical” component of that, Halsey said.

Professionally, Halsey was glad to take a position working with higher education happening away from the school’s home campus, he said.

“This seemed to be just an ideal connection with my background,” he said.

Halsey is on the board of the National University Telecommunications Network.

Before working at Virginia Tech, he was a regional director of distance learning at Old Dominion University. He said he also taught business strategy and organizational behavior.

On a shelf in his office, he has the flags of 19 countries where he said he has taught, been a consultant, had meetings or otherwise worked, including China, Vietnam, Lithuania, Guatemala, Bolivia and South Africa.

When considering the USMH job, he told the center’s advisory board that he can help increase access to higher education for people who can’t “drop what they’re doing and move to a traditional campus and be a traditional student,” he said.

Through distance learning, he said, “we are democratizing, in a way, higher education.”

USMH is a regional higher-education center for five University System of Maryland schools based elsewhere. A sixth school, Coppin State University, is scheduled to start a bachelor’s program in Hagerstown in the fall.

Erin Harman, a spokeswoman for USMH, said Salisbury University’s social work instruction is primarily through an interactive video network. Some University of Maryland University College and Frostburg State University programs also use distance learning.

At least 80 percent of the course offerings at USMH have at least one online class per semester, she estimated.

Electronic instruction needs to be done right, Halsey said.

He recalled how he used to treat online interaction as if each student were doing an independent study. If someone asked a question, he answered directly.

Then, he realized that posting the original question and the answer can help all students at the same time, the same as what would happen in a live class.

Technology sometimes sparks students to become more interested and engaged, Halsey said.

For example, he said, his daughter was an eager reader, but his son wasn’t — until he got a Kindle, which is an electronic-book reader.

Halsey said he knew USMH has been the subject of state budget battles nearly every year it’s been open, but it didn’t make him leery of becoming executive director.

“While there are battles — and there always are budget battles because the pie is never quite big enough — it is too critical for Hagerstown not to have the center,” he said. “So, maybe I am the eternal optimist, but I believe in the final throes of everything, that the funding will manifest and we will continue.”

Coppin State to start a USMH program

Coppin State University in Baltimore is planning to offer a bachelor’s degree program in health information management in Hagerstown this fall.

Coppin State will be the sixth University System of Maryland school with a degree program at the USM regional center in Hagerstown.

School and USMH officials are expected to talk more about the new program at an announcement event and reception May 30.

A USMH news release described health information management as a profession involving electronic records, patient data, reimbursement coding information and health care research.

The program will include traditional classes at the USM campus in downtown Hagerstown, as well as online components, the news release says.

The other five USM schools with programs at USMH are Frostburg State University, University of Maryland University College, the University of Maryland at College Park, Towson University and Salisbury University.

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